I have noted on many occasions how highly I think of my eldest Sons, J1, school. I believe his time at the school has enhanced his life in almost every way possible. It is the school, I maintain, that turned him from saying two words into a chatterbox. It is the school that has helped him to develop a wonderful sense of humour. It is the school that has made him accepting of other children his age, instead of being afraid of them.
For those who have no experience of being involved with a Special Needs school, they may think it would be very different to a mainstream school. In lots of way it is. Along with the teachers there is a much higher ratio of 'teaching assistants' in each class. The school is usually also host to a lot of 'Ists' on a daily basis. For example, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Therapists, Music Therapists. Outside of the classroom is an array of equipment; wheelchairs, standing frames, walking frames; mobile hoists; wedges. There is usually a few people fixing and adjusting those pieces of kit.
Instead of classes being host to a tiny cubicle with small toilet and sink they are built with a large 'changing place' and along with the more able-bodied childrens facility there is also a hoist, a changing bench and storage unit to hold all the individual supplies of pads. There are an array of sensory rooms, soft rooms, quiet rooms - places children with the need for their own space can go and feel calm. There is a full time on-site nurse to help ensure that all medication and intravenous 'food and drink' is administered correctly.
In the playground you will find all the usual items but in addition to this you will find a roundabout and swing that a wheelchair can be fixed onto. A sensory garden with wind chimes and colour-makers.
However, in the midst of all these 'differences' many things are the same. The school day starts at 09:00 and ends at 15:00. They have morning break time and lunch time in the big hall. They have Assembly on a Friday afternoon. They have a school curriculum to work through, parent / teacher evenings, end of year reports and an Annual Awards Ceremony.
I did not know what to expect when J1 started. I suppose I expected that he would be 'learning' a little in addition to his physical needs for Physiotherapy etc. I did not expect him to be learning as much as he is - shame on me for not realising my sons capabilities and thank God for the school that they did!
What I did not expect was that the children would participate in all the things I did at school. I suppose I thought what with providing education as any school would and attending to all the extra needs of the children, they would have the time. How wrong was I.
Every year we attend the Christmas Fair, with many stalls being full of things the classes have made themselves. It never fails to amaze me how they manage it. We go along and are moved by the Christmas Play, with each class having their own starring moment. Fundraisers are held each term, this one was a sponsored walk. The entire school participates. They have field trips regularly and a whole school outing in the Summer. No child misses out, unless the parent feels it is necessary. How a school does this, when catering for such a wide range of Special Needs is, in my opinion, pretty amazing.
One of my favourite school events however is Harvest Festival. I think because I used to enjoy it myself. It was exciting to go out to a different venue and sing with the school and perform whatever our class was doing. Each year the local church opens its doors for our children. We are treated to readings, songs, dancing and a reminder that we really should be grateful for the abundance of food we have available to us.
I think it is one of those triggers that it really is Autumn and I have already posted about how much I love Autumn. It is also beautiful to see all the pupils doing something that every other school does, no matter what their disability. It is a heart warming sight of inclusiveness that I am blessed and thankful for witnessing.